#VLPowerSummit: Voto Latino Launched it's Four-City Leadership Tour in NYC on April 11-12, Exclusive Interview with CEO Maria Teresa Kumar [Part I]
Millennials and tween-agers filled the ranks; filed in close, stood-at-attention, ready to absorb knowledge and wisdom. Maria Teresa Kumar, Rosario Dawson, and Wilmer Valderrama arrived ready to lay down knowledge on the doting audience -- offering valuable perspective on Latino emergence, prevalence, and the excellence of the group.
April 11th, that Friday evening, kicked-off the two day Voto Latino Power Summit event, which began on allotted floor space, on the ground floor of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where business casual-clad lads and ladies crowded, delighted by finger-food, refreshments and good company. Light-rendered scaffolding created a stage, and projections on the walls displayed the 10-year lifespan of the organization; its numerous successes and campaigns rolled across the wall in the form of a photo slideshow.
Dawson had travelled the farthest that day, having come all the way from Ghana -- there to launch a clothing line; yes, Dawson travelled the farthest, but Voto Latino had also come a long way. The organization began as series of PSA, celebrity-endorsed announcements with no backings... ideas with no propulsion. Now, the non-partisan organization thrives online through civic engagement campaigns and has a reach of 38 million Latinos, and it hosts a number of on the ground engagements, such as the Voto Latino-sponsored screening of Cesar Chavez and the Power Summit, which ensures that valuable information reach Latino Millennials at every level.
VL's artist coalition includes Wilmer Valderrama, America Ferrera, Pitbull, Jessica Alba, Common and 40 other dedicated celebrities, who help to echo the importance of empowerment and legacy. The vehicle for positive change and youth empowerment, VL, also designed the Power Summit leadership conference to educate and engage, and to continue to promote voter registration and accessibility.
This past weekend, more than 300 Latino Millennials convened, with generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacAuthur Foundation, Google and Southwest Airlines to offer opportune workshops, conferences and trainings with business leader, technology experts, elected officials, celebrities, artists, and community organizers.
Kumar, Voto Latino's President and CEO, briefly spoke with Latin Post about her history, the organization's past, and the inception of the fleshly minted VL Innovator Challenge, a tech contest, which welcomes the ideas of Millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 -- the best projects that brim with talent likely to earn $500,000 in grants.
"More than anything, I want [Millennials] to network with each other, to recognize the power that's experienced when communities work together, being able to achieve big dreams and big goals. We're celebrating our 10 year anniversary. When Voto Latino started people kept telling us that Voto Latino couldn't be done. And, not only have we been able to prove that we can... we proved that we could do it with force, and with strength, because the Latino community has been able to come together and flex their muscle," Kumar said enthusiastically and crisply, her voice somehow heard well, despite close happy chatter from more than 100 hundred attendees and music flowing from the speakers.
Kumar was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and raised in California; her Colombian mother and American father instilling a sense of duality, earned by growing up in a bicultural household, and by being bilingual. Two worlds rest comfortably on her shoulders, and she's able to move from the American Latino experience to the mainstream American experience, this helping her gauge the gaps, and translate understandings. Beckoned to Voto Latino by Rosario Dawson after it was founded in 2004, Kumar arrived with fresh ideas about technology, long-hand methods to reach the Latino community, well-applied methods to continue engagement and youth voting, and strong political knowledge.
When asked about her relocation to the United States as a child, and about her unique Latino experience, she responded, saying, "My Latino experience...I was basically going back and forth, between the United States and Colombia in the summers," said Kumar, who gained a master's degree in public policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "So, I was able to see the difference...here in the U.S., and that of Colombia. That also allowed me to see the opportunities that the U.S. offered me that Colombia could not offer me. My mother, at the time, was a single mom, so it was a different experience, for even her. I'm extremely grateful that I was able to go to college, to then work my dream job, and, also, be able to give back to the community, in a country that's given me and my family so much."
"The most important thing that Latino youth need to focus on is being curious and hungry... and what I mean when I say curious and hungry, is that I want to encourage people to learn as much as possible... and always be hungry to learn; and if you can do that, then you're setting yourself up for any job market, and you're always going to be the one in charge of your destiny," said Kumar, who was one of the prime driving forces behind the creation of the four-city Latino Millennial Leadership Tour, which is partnering with MIT Media Lab, the MacArthur Foundation and many others.
"I've always been passionate about education, now that I have two babies... and being on the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet... I realized that we have to see the beauty of learning outside of the classroom. So, this weekend, we're going to launch what we call Badges, with MacAuthur... so that when someone goes to an internship; someone goes to conferences; when they learn different toolsets that are not learned inside the classroom, that should be recognized," Kumar said, referring to the newly initiated, innovative "Badge" system, which was launched at the New York City conference, and will allow participants to build a digital portfolio, showcasing skills that were gained at the Power Summit workshops.
"Digital badges are a new way to recognize learning in today's ever-changing environment, capturing learning whenever and wherever it happens, including the Voto Latino Power Summit," said Connie Yowell Director of Education, the MacAuthur Foundation in a press release issued by the organization. "The New York City Power Summit is a perfect forum to debut this innovative approach to connect learning and to provide Latino Millennials with a new way to make their skills and capacities visible to employers, educators, parents and their peers."
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